The Impact of Federal Laws & DOMA on Gay Marriage
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
Enacted in 1996, The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defined marriage as
“a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,
and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite
sex who is a husband or a wife.”
The Supreme Court recently ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional. In the case, Edith Windsor was the surviving spouse of Thea Spyer. They
were legally married in Canada and living in New York, which recognized
their marriage. When Thea passed away, her partner Edith was required
to pay approximately $363,000 in federal taxes on her wife’s estate.
If the federal government had recognized their relationship, her tax bill
would have been $0.
What Happens Now that DOMA has been Overturned?
Despite the Court's ruling, unresolved issues remain both at the federal
and state levels. Issues may arise for couples that are married in a state
that recognizes same-sex marriage and then move or travel to a state that
does not. Some of these issues may arise when the couple is in the process
of ending their relationship.
Same-sex couples may also face issues at the state level when they travel
to other states. Some of these issues may relate to their children and
The Supreme Court decision also differentiated between the various forms
of legally recognized same-sex relationships. The court's decision
explains that the federal government will recognize gay marriages, but
not registered domestic partnerships or civil unions.
What About States that Don’t Recognize Gay Marriage?
In addition to the issues around marriage vs. quasi-marital relationships,
same-sex couples who get married in Washington or another state which
allows gay marriage may experience problems when they travel. This is
especially likely if they move to a state that does not recognize same-sex
marriages (or if the couple never resided in a state that had marriage
recognition, but married in Washington or another state that recognizes
There are approximately 1,000 federal benefits that are connected to marriage.
Whether or not the federal government will recognize the rights of same-sex
couples who reside outside Washington, in a state that does not recognize
same-sex marriage, will vary based on the benefit.
For more information on the various benefits, several of the national LGBT
organizations have created a variety of
“After DOMA” factsheets.
How Will it Affect Non-Married Same-Sex Couples?
Even with the end of the federal DOMA, legal discrimination against same-sex
couples in non-marital relationships (like domestic partnerships and civil
unions) continues. Federal law benefits and responsibilities are connected
to "marriage." This means that couples in domestic partnerships
and civil unions will not benefit from the
The Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional for the Federal Government
to deny the recognition of a marriage when a state recognized the marriage.
However, had Edith and Thea been in a state registered domestic partnership
or a civil union, they would have still had to pay taxes. Couples who
are not married will still be faced with the estate tax Edith experienced.
Economic Impact of Legalizing Gay Marriage
IMPACT ON FEDERAL AND STATE BUDGETS
Many fear that lifting the federal ban on same-sex marriage would put an
immediate drain on federal budgets.
Research by the Congressional Budget Office suggests that this is not so: "The Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
estimates that on net, those impacts would improve the budget's bottom
line to a small extent."
Federal income tax revenue would also likely increase, as joint filers
often are subject to what is called the "
Any increased state spending on benefits would be outweighed by savings
from lower cash assistance and Medicaid spending. It also appears that
state budgets would also get a boost due to wedding licensing fees (e.g.
New York City reported a $250 million increase in revenue after legalizing
More same-sex partners would have medical insurance (once they are able
to qualify for their spouse's insurance plan), reducing healthcare
The wedding and divorce industry could receive a $9.5 billion boost from
the country's nearly 800,000 unmarried same-sex couples.
ECONOMIC ADVANTAGES FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES
While same-sex couples might have to dole out some extra cash to pay for
weddings and higher income taxes, they may pay less estate and gift taxes.
Same-sex couples may also pay fewer legal fees to create legal ways to
share ownership of property, and become parents. They may also pay less
to prepare their federal income tax returns.